Flowers before bread...or the effects of singing on los corazones
Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly works to bring friendship and celebration to Chicago's isolated older folks.
I've been volunteering with Little Brothers since my return to Chicago from Salamanca in late 2008. I've always been an avid volunteer. Previously I'd always seemed to choose organizations focused on youth and opportunity, on giving someone with a dream a way to work to make it come true. As I wandered through the pages of Volunteer Match on my return from Spain, the idea of simply offering friendship appealed to me. I won't discard the possibility that I saw myself in Little Brothers' old friends. As a single, childless woman with a 2-person immediate family, I expect my last years will look a lot like those of the elderly Little Brothers serves, should I reach their age before hitting my last years. Whatever my motivation, when I chose to respond to Little Brother's call for volunteers, I chose well.
For the first few years, we spent our holidays together. Little Brothers throws festive parties on holidays, complete with flowers, live music and three course meals. I've played chauffeur to elders for a North side party or two. More often I've delivered meals and mini-celebrations to elders not well or mobile enough to attend a party. I've risen early on Christmas Days, Easter mornings and the occasional Thanksgiving to drive down to the group's Ashland Avenue headquarters, where I've been greeted with hugs, hot coffee and some of the warmest holiday wishes I remember receiving. With my own spirits sufficiently lifted, I've been sent on my way laden with ¨holidays to go¨ for two or three homebound elders: a hot meal, a flower or plant, a balloon, a bottle of sparkling cider. In the five years I've been back in Chicago, I've shared memorable part of my solo holidays in kitchens and living rooms across the North side with other, older, solo Chicagoans. The group throws a birthday party each month for the elders celebrating birthdays, as well. Homebound old friends receive a ready-made home-delivered celebration: cake, a party hat, more of that tasty cider, a present and a smiling, singing volunteer.
Little Brothers has given me warm, beautiful beings with whom to spend my holidays -- most human, some the canine companions of those humans, all happy to welcome me to their homes. More than that, Little Brothers has given me as much of a celebration as they've packed up for me to deliver along my route. They've made my holidays vivid and celebratory. Best of all, my holiday visits have introduced me to the wisdom, humor and poignant life stories of some lovely elderly Chicagoans.
But the rose in the photo, you ask? The flowers and bread of the title? The singing corazones?
Well, "flowers before bread" is the organization's motto. You can read more about that, about the founding of the group in Paris after World World II and about the chapters in the US and around the world (including a relatively young chapter in Madrid founded by a Spaniard who worked for Chicago's chapter for a year). Roses are a common party favor at the group's events, as a reminder of the group's belief that life's little celebrations -- flowers, music, laughter, time spent with friends -- feed the soul, and are as important as the bread that feeds the body.
I took the rose in the photo--and a lot more -- home from yesterday's spring Little Brothers bash.
I've recently become what Little Brothers calls a "visiting volunteer", you see. I've been matched to a pair of old friends and entrusted with keeping in touch, enjoying their friendship and escorting the pair to Little Brothers events.
And therein lies the genius of the thing. The old friends to whom I've been entrusted are lively and charming; both came to Chicago from their native Cuba just as Castro came to power. I've been welcomed into the warm, life loving, boisterous, singing and dancing wonder that is Little Brothers of Chicago's Spanish speaking contingent.
And so my party yesterday - my first with the Spanish-speaking group - was as lively, as joy-filled and as celebratory as the most memorable of those Spanish weddings I used to go on about.
Setting aside the immeasurable pleasure of once again being called mi niña (oh, will I ever tire? ), of the abrazos and besos, each announced as it is given (un beso, mi niña), I'll share with you tales of the afternoon.
The music was live and lively (a Chilean-born guitarist and his daughter), and the singing... ah, the singing filled the room all afternoon, from the first word of the first verse of the first tune, Agustin Lara's haunting Solamente Una Vez. Volunteers, staff, sextagenarians, septagenarians, octogenarians, all sang with reckless abandon. The dance floor was packed -- let me remind you this was a party for those above 70 - forcing the volunteer waitstaff to weave around the edges of the room to deliver the day's tasty meal to their guests.
I don't get a chance to dance much these days -- and let me be the first to point out that my enjoyment of dancing far surpasses my ability-- but yesterday's crowd would have no part of my sitting out Manola Escobar's "Viva España" and the tunes that followed. Those unable to get up and cut a rug cheered the rest of us from the sidelines. Circles of dancers formed, and one by one each member of a circle took his or her turn with a solo in the middle of the cheering, dancing circle.
May I remind you once again that this was a party for the over 70 crowd?
I find myself dancing around the house today, lit up by the spark of folks into and beyond their 7th decade.
I didn't know all of the tunes our talented musicians offered us yesterday, though my cohorts seemed to. I envisioned those around me, volunteers and elders alike, growing up in musical households like the one I was lucky to be born into, albeit households with a different set of tunes. (No, "Danny Boy" didn't make yesterday's playlist.) I learned that the song Americans of my generation will recognize as the Frito Bandito theme is a lovely old Mexican Ranchera tune with lyrics I find it easy to stand behind today.